Thursday, October 13, 2005
STRAIGHT FROM THE C.E.O.
CEOs to many of us minions are people who earn five years' of our salaries in a single year. They are also the ones who have chauffeur-driven cars and enjoy the many perks that come with the job. Now for probably the first time, someone has compiled their thoughts on managing companies and people.
IN THE MIND of the man-in-the-street, the definition of a chief executive
officer (CEO) simply means mega bucks. What the ordinary Joe does not
realise is that the CEO is probably one of the most harassed men around,
and is one of those who actually earns his keep. The reason is rather
simple. If the company thrives, he gets his fair share of rewards.
However, if the company flounders, there is every possibility that he will
be that man overboard.
In this medley of what-the-CEO-knows, we are given front row seats to a
grand recital by 33 CEOs from across the globe who strive, thrive, and
live to tell their tales in the pursuit of excellence.
Not all are spell-binding narrators of the first order but they all
share a common trait - they are all effective CEOs. The fact that they are
called upon to share their own proven formulas is testimony of their
calibre in their chosen fields.
Since it is basically a management treatise, Straight From The CEO is
anything but bedside reading. Perhaps, the best approach in digesting its
contents would be to have no expectations of its inherent value. The
sub-title of the book aptly sums up the gist of the whole volume. It
promises to unveil ideas from the world's top business leaders which every
manager can use.
There are six parts in this book: globalisation, radical change,
leadership, culture, innovation and creativity, and customer relationship.
The various approaches to solving management problems in different
countries involve a lot of common sense and an above-average understanding
of that particular nation's culture and laws. It is, therefore, an
education of no small proportions to listen and learn all the important
lessons that these CEOs, graduates of various schools of management
thought, have to impart.
Carlsberg's Flemming Lindelov speaks eloquently of the firm's policy of
'thinking globally but acting locally'; the buzzword of which is 'glocal'.
Says Lindelov: 'Glocal companies possess the skills to be international in
range and scope, while maintaining local relatedness to markets.'
In the last fiscal year, it has been disclosed that 84.2 per cent of
Carlsberg's beer sales came from overseas. In comparison, less than four
per cent of the combined brands of well-known firms like Nestle, P&G,
Colgate, Kraft, Quaker and Unilever has been termed as global.
And how does Carlsberg do it? The points to remember, says Lindelov, are
dedication to quality, long-term vision, mystique and style, global reach,
and tradition and generational renewal. Some of these characteristics may
not be applicable to some industries but to the beer industry, they are
From British Aerospace, CEO Sir Richard Evans - branded 'an apostle of
radical change' - advocates that people are their greatest strength;
customers are given highest priority, partnerships are the company's
future; innovation and technology are its competitive edge; and
performance is the key to winning. Simple as they may sound, the company's
values acted as guideposts to steer the corporate ship safely through
stormy weather in the early 90s into calmer waters of the later years.
Evans's not-so-secret formula of pulling together the various disparate
Aerospace divisions and effectively forging a new identity has helped
British Aerospace regain a steady course as it sails along its path of
success and profitability.
Management by CEOs is certainly an old story that has not been told
often enough for the benefit of those in the lower echelons. Straight From
The CEO caters to this need as modern companies wrestle with newer and
more complex problems of the new age.
Touching on leadership and a culture of continuous renewal, Eckhard
Pfeiffer of Compaq Computer Corporation postulates that 'renewal
challenges the company to stretch and grow'.
The turning point for Compaq came in 1991 when revenue and market
position took a long dive. In many ways, the crisis came at the right time
because Compaq woke up with a shock that it needed to introduce some
sweeping changes. Consequently, Compaq came up with three guiding
attack your own business and financial models before someone else does,
be careful about focusing on your industry's market leaders,
particularly if they are losing market share, and
stretching the organisation brings out the best in it.
On employees, Pfeiffer's advice begs remembering: 'Threatening employees
isn't the same as challenging them. Unfortunately, this is a lesson too
many companies have yet to learn. Experience should eventually bring them
around. While it is possible to use a crisis, fear, or unreasonable
demands to generate a single wave of change, the effects are seldom
long-lasting or self-sustaining. Executives, managers and employees who
have survived these tactics don't look forward to experiencing them again.
Compaq employees know that individual and collective success can only
continue if they embrace change as an opportunity rather than reacting to
it in a crisis mode.'
This book abounds with ideas of corporate renewal techniques and
improving customer relationship, harnessing intellectual capital and
understanding the never-ending flow of technology.
Each chapter is an unforgettable tutorial. The CEOs who have tried and
tested their own ideas all share a common trait: they are invariably
interventionists who would not hesitate to take charge of a crisis-driven
situation. Coupled with passion and enthusiasm, these CEOs would bulldoze
through their results-oriented behavioral changes which subsequently reap
There is no way in which Straight From The CEO can be described as 'easy
reading', and it is not. Very seldom are exercises which produce strong
bodies perceived as a leisurely stroll across a park. And this book from
the CEO's office cannot be seen as such. There, it is with great pleasure
that this book is deemed as reference material. It can also be read for
pleasure if you already know the subject well.
For the rest of us who will almost never reach the pinnacle of CEO
status, this compilation of CEO thoughts holds ample material for a better
understanding of management from the top floor of corporations of
different makes. On the other hand, why wait? Read the book, just in case